I’ve mentioned the splendid Curiomira site previously, but here’s a prop I’d previously overlooked: A wooden shrine which displays the “corpse” of The World’s Smallest Man. I really like the carnival sideshow feel of the case; it’s very reminiscent of something that P.T. Barnum might have commissioned to wring a little extra utility from an unexpectedly-deceased freak.
I have neither the sculpting ability nor the woodworking chops to pull off something quite this elaborate, but I’m thinking that a perfectly respectable wunderkammer-type display might be made with slightly easier methods. A somewhat more dessicated corpse could be built using the same technique I describe in my mummified fairy tutorial; you wouldn’t even need to bother covering most of the body, since it’ll be hidden by clothing. It should be reasonably easy to find suitably-sized doll clothes, and in a pinch you can also sew your own: Most major pattern manufacturers offer a whole range of doll-sized clothing patterns.
This particular suit appears to have been treated with starch or maybe diluted white glue and then arranged to make it hang on the body a little more naturally. It also seems to be slightly dusty, which could be achieved with a light dusting of baby powder whilst the cloth is still tacky.
The “body” is laid out on a plain white mattressy-looking thing–probably muslin–but it’d be fairly easy to make a casket-type lining instead: Make a sandwich using a remnant of satin or velvet for the top, a piece of fairly high-loft quilt batting for the middle, and whatever fabric you want (since it won’t be seen) for the bottom. Make small stitches at regular intervals through all three layers, pulling tightly and knotting in the back; alternately, you can sew small buttons at intervals: You’re looking for a ruched appearance similar to this. The raw edges of the fabric can be finished with bias tape or simply tucked out of sight beneath the bier.
The case itself would probably be most easily done by embellishing a small wooden shadowbox. The pediment and columns could be made of styrofoam, insulation foam (of the sort sometimes used to make prop tombstones), or the decorative wooden shapes found at hardware stores. The detailing can be hand-painted or computer-printed and decoupaged in place.
The finished piece may not be quite as rich-looking as the Curiomira installation, but it’s something that we Mere Mortals should be able to handle, and it would certainly be an excellent decorative accessory or the centerpiece of a carnival-themed party.